3D printing and rapid prototyping have been revolutionary in their own right. Almost every specialist unanimously agrees that the two branches of additive manufacturing are picking up steam very rapidly. The most progress has happened with industrial standard rapid prototyping and 3D printing, which is seen as a huge catalyst behind the increasing growth and demand of the 3D printing market. In the next few years, it is expected that rapid prototyping will be adopted in larger numbers than ever before. The current growth of the sector is so much that the IDC were convinced to adjust their growth expectations of expenditure on 3D printing worldwide. A recent prediction by IDC states that this expenditure will exceed thirty five billion dollars by the year 2020. One might ask as to where all this amazing market growth is taking place. A rather unlikely 3D printing hub is on the rise over at Northeast Ohio. According to latest reports, Northeast Ohio has what it takes to become the Silicon Valley of rapid prototyping and 3D printing technologies in the foreseeable future.
This amazing inference comes from a report compiled by Northeast Ohio based rapid prototyping companies and business firms like America Makes, Youngstown Business Incubator (YBI), the Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network and Team Northeast Ohio (Team NEO). Their recently finished meticulous report is titled ‘the Asset Map of Additive Manufacturing Opportunities in Northeast Ohio’, which was launched back in November 2015. The funding for the study was provided by Fund for Our Economic Future. According to the group, the purpose of the study was to determine and analyze the feasibility of a 3D printing and rapid prototyping cluster based in Northeast Ohio. They term it as a geographic concentration of interconnected business firms, service providers, associated institutions and suppliers of raw materials. The market of 3D printing is already worth seven billion dollars. The group’s objective was to see how the potential of this fast growing market could be brought into the Northeast Ohio based firms. According to the study, this venture is actually a rather lucrative idea. Long reputed as a manufacturing hub, Northeast Ohio houses around two thousand companies that are working to produce plastic, rubber and processed metal in the region. The report shows that 3D printing will not only be used by these companies for rapid prototyping purposes, but also highlights ample opportunities for direct tooling and manufacturing through 3D printing technologies.
According to Team NEO vice president of innovation and industry Tim Fahey, the group wants the region of Northeast Ohio to be internationally reputed as a hub for rapid prototyping, 3D printing and additive manufacturing. It is to become a region where European manufacturers of 3D printing equipment want to base their US headquarters in, as it would logically be the most feasible place to setup business here.
This report however, demands that the region requires a new plan for economic development. The ‘Asset Map’ strongly urges that 3D printing could give the region its necessary, much needed boost. The report argues that besides the strong manufacturing base of the region, Northeast Ohio is also houses market connections, institutional resources especially in aerospace and biomedical sectors and many reputed universities. These factors could contribute to the development of a region into a major rapid prototyping hub. Among other firms, National Additive Manufacturing Innovation and America Makes are already based in the region. However, there remain several obstacles to overcome. A few of these are limited venture funding and software initiative. With these hurdles crossed successfully, the Silicon Valley of 3D printing could definitely be based in Northeast Ohio.
The Asset Map also proposed a seven year plan for the boost of rapid prototyping and 3D printing in the region. Their report contains five main steps and goals, all contributing to fostering a climate best suited for 3D printing innovations. The goals of their seven year plan are-
The full Asset Map comprehensively looks into the regional efforts with rapid prototyping in Northeast Ohio; taking into account potential benefits and existing challenges to establishing a 3D printing hub. Due to the already strong presence of technology in the region, it was obvious to be focusing on 3D printing- opines Fahey. He also mentions the rich engineering and design resources that the universities of the region possess. Coupled with these resources, 3D printing can definitely thrive in the region in a foreseeable future. The universities mentioned were Youngstown State University, University of Akron, and Case Western Reserve University etc. Hence the region has the potential not only to be a supply chain center for rapid prototyping, it can also produce leading firms who would be harbingers of this transformation in design.
Youngstown Business Incubator’s chief operating officer Barb Ewing states that the fact that America Makes is based in Northeast Ohio gives huge potential to the region. The focus of the company however, is more technology based rather than economic or the development side. Therefore, the Asset Map does the job of convincing various players of the industry to join forces with an eye on rapid prototyping and 3D printing. Ewing comments that all players need to be on the field. He adds that if the region can see itself as part of the ‘TechBelt’ of Cleveland-Pittsburgh, then the competition of the tech region becomes immense.
There are however, significant obstacles to creating a 3D printing hub in Northeast Ohio. The main problem remains the fact that the companies concerned are hesitant to adopt new technologies and are averse to the prospect of failure. Besides, there are other financial and technological constraints that have to be surmounted before Northeast Ohio can surface as the Silicon Valley of rapid prototyping. However, the makers of the report are hopeful that the region can sustain a healthy environment for 3D printing and rapid prototyping to flourish in near future.
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